Monday, July 25, 2005

Because they are Cornish

It's July, I'm at work and it's raining outside but in an undaunted wave of summer holiday optimism, let's all think instead about Cornwall - the surfing, the clotted cream ice cream, the wind in your hair as you stride along the coastpath - ah, bliss... But hold on, what's this? Maybe because that's where all the Guardian journalists have decamped for the summer, but Cornwall is all over the paper in ways that are very interesting for language students.

First up is news that the ongoing plans to revive the Cornish language have hit a bit of a stumbling block. What Cornish language? Well, check out the first link for more, but in a nutshell it's one of Britain's ancient Celtic languages, as spoken by Britons before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. What's this got to do with English? Ah well, lots... Quite apart from the whole consideration of how minority languages interact with massive majority ones like English, there is fascinating material in the second piece of linkylovin' about the processes of standardisation in Cornish. These make for interesting comparison with the standardisation of English.

The issue, y'see, is that the architects of the Cornish revival cannot agree about how the language should be spelled. There are different options and each school of thought on the subject wants its version to be adopted as the standard. We're seeing the process of codification in living breathing action here, a process the English language went through in a less planned manner in the 18th century, but one that inspired equally heated debate.

Cornish language

Spelling row could see Cornish go west

Next up is an article about the 'war' being waged on the Cornish beaches. Well, North Cornwall to be precise, between 'locals' and 'rahs' - an interesting clipping of the first part of the slang term 'Hoorah Henries', a.k.a. 'snob-yobs'. This story has being doing the media rounds the last few summers, but what's interesting about this piece is that the journalist touches on some language issues. First she notes the downward convergence in the speech of the rahs and the effects this has on everyone else, from deeply insulting to strikingly insensitive. Then she reports the locals' account of the mockery they face for their West Country accents. When I read this, Labov's classic Martha's Vineyard study came immediately to mind, so if you're down in Cornwall, go check it out, will ya? This could make a fine A2 coursework project!

Wild, wild west

Labov's Martha's Vineyard study


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